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Vendor PTC makes play for augmented reality technology

PTC Inc., a software company based in Needham, MA, is in the midst of a transformation. Known for its design software, PLM and service management products, PTC is placing big bets on the Internet of Things and augmented reality technology.

“The digital and physical worlds are converging,” Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO at PTC, said at last week’s live streaming Thing Event. “This convergence is transforming everything. It’s transforming how we design and manufacture things, how we operate and service them.”

But, added Heppelmann, one area that hasn’t converged just yet is how people interact with smart, connected things.

That’s a gap PTC believes will be filled by augmented reality (AR) technology. Unlike the artificial environment created by virtual reality technologies, AR layers contextual information over the real world in real time. Think Google Glass, which uses eyewear to, say, display a map view to the user with directions to a destination.

In addition to changing how consumers interact with the world around them and how companies market to those consumers, PTC believes AR technology will change how employees get work done within the enterprise. “The number of potential applications for AR in the enterprise is limitless,” Heppelmann said. His list includes everything from validating product designs to training new employees on how to use a product in the field.

PTC is using AR to help businesses fix and maintain complicated machines. Deere & Co, a manufacturer of agricultural, forestry and industrial engines and equipment, and KTM-Sportmotorcycle AG, a global company that designs and manufactures racing motorcycles, are two PTC customers using AR to this effect.

At KTM, for example, one of the challenges the company encounters in new growth markets is the lack of technical experience needed to service the bikes. “This can make it difficult to make repairs correctly and it can be difficult to make those repairs on time,” Jens Tuma, head of customer service at KTM, said during the webcast.

KTM is using AR as an interactive resource to guide new technicians when making repairs. Using a tablet, the technician can run a diagnostic test on KTM’s smart bikes, isolate the problem and then follow step-by-step visual instructions overlaid on the bike itself that shows how to make the repair.

“Augmented reality will help us deliver more consistent service around the globe,” Tuma said.

PTC’s IoT and AR play has been years in the making. In 2014, PTC acquired Axeda and ThingWorx, companies that specialize in building Internet of Things applications. In 2015, PTC acquired Vuforia, an AR platform for developers, and ColdLight, a predictive analytics platform.

PTC’s acquisitions total up to more than $700 million, which is a sizable investment to equip the company with connectivity, cloud and analytics technology. “PTC needed to transform our technology portfolio to align with the transformation happening in products today,” Heppelmann said.